Sunday, February 22, 2015

Riding into the Belly of the MCP - Day 3. Crossing the Border into Betong


We had a good sleep at SMZ Hotel and getting up at 7am was easy. I opened the window and was greeted by a lovely cool early morning mountain breeze. We wasted no time to check out as we wanted to ride in this perfect weather. Only 55km awaited us today. After cruising around the 2 street town of Grik, we found a Chinese coffee shop selling curry noodles and nasi lemak. The friendly lady invited us in and the meal turned out very satisfying indeed. Seated below a no smoking sign at the far end was an old lady, probably the Grand Matriarch of the shop. She was busy smoking.


It was great to be out riding again in the cool morning breeze. As we rode out of town, the traffic got lighter and it was special to be spinning our small wheels with the mountains in sight.


Our destination initially was to ride to Pengkalan Hulu and then hang right northwards along Highway 67 towards the Thai border. However, there was a back road (1157) that begged to be explored some 27km before PH. I have read earlier that it was a shorter route ending north of Pengkalan Hulu along Highway 67, saving a few kms. A quick look at the terrain map alerted us to hills but KC and I are always game for a challenge and our gamble paid off in spades.

Highway 1157 to Betong turned out to be a most beautiful route on newly surfaced roads. Yes, it had some climbs, 3 steep ones in particular but nothing to really be worried about. Traffic was almost non existent and the scenery was breathtaking. It felt special to be skirting the border of Malaysia and Thailand and to know that this was formerly the home ground of the Malayan Communist Party. 30 years ago, we may have very well been caught in an ambush!


Our breakkie was soon gone and it was a good thing I had energy gels. 1157 is a relatively quiet road and we were very glad to come across some shops towards the end of this highway. A quick dart for ice milk tea, with an ant thrown in for extra taste, brought quick relieve for us.


It was great to have a chat with the local boys who enquired where we were heading. "Betong!" we said, and somehow, that led to them sharing all their blokey advice about where to get the best "after dark" entertainment. One chap was singing praises of Betong and bemoaned the lack of such offerings in conservative Perak. KC and I nodded politely and thank them for their kind concern for our manly "needs"...


It was so encouraging to see road markers showing us that Thailand was getting nearer and nearer. 1157 soon ended with a steep descent and I managed to hit 52km/h before turning right at the T. Here, it was a mild but long climb to the border. I always enjoyed crossing borders and this was the first time I was crossing into Thailand from Malaysia, and felt elated doing it on my Bike Friday Tikit. Clearing Malaysian Immigration was a breeze and the friendly officials were quite curious at seeing 2 small wheeled circus bicycles turning up at their post.


200m into no man's land we stopped at the border marker to take our inaugural photo together. It was very special to ride this adventure with my faithful riding Buddy KC and to do it on our city folding bikes. Crossing into Thailand, we could not contained our excitement. The Thai side was a bit more informal and we all had to pay an immigration official RM$2 to fill up our white immigration card. Felt this was a bit odd as we always filled this ourselves but I guess this sort of "supplemented" their wages.



The whole process was very smooth and easy and this is something we dare not take forgranted. Giving thanks to God, we were soon on our way in Thai terra firma flying downhill to Betong. The ride to town was only about 8km on very good wide roads. Many of the Thais here dressed exactly like the Malaysian locals and spoke Malay too. This is understandable as the southern parts of Thailand - Pattani, Narathiwat, Songkla, Satun and Yala were once a part of Malaya. The Anglo Siamese Treaty of 1909 saw these states ceded to Thailand by the British and today, it continues to brew the seed of discontentment with the occasional unrest. I was a bit concern when I later discovered that just 7 months ago, a car bomb went off in Betong town killing several people and injuring many. Which explains the lack of tourists I supposed... but we were not complaining.


Upon arrival in Betong, we were welcome by the sight of the Clock Tower. This small border town in itself is quite charming and quaint. We had a delicious lunch at a famous noodle place and was surprised that many people here spoke Mandarin. People here also seemed to be very friendly but that is to be said for Thailand in general.



There are quite a number of hotels catering mainly to Malaysian tourists but the largely reliable Tripadvisor pointed us to Modern Hotel and we were not disappointed. At 890B for the standard room, the location was very good just 100m from the Clock Tower and surrounded by eateries and shops.

Pic - Tripadvisor

Just outside the hotel had lots of street vendors selling amazing food at even more amazing prices. The rooms were clean and spacious, with some touches of modernity. But most of all, they were bike friendly so we cannot complain. Just make sure you get rooms that are far enough from the noisy Karoke.


There are enough attractions to keep one busy in Betong for a day or two. There are silly ones like the World's largest post box but the reason for my coming here is to experience the Piyamit Tunnels. These were constructed in the mid 70s by the Communists in their fight for a Communist Malaya. This we will do tomorrow not by bicycles, but by a rented moped as the hills there are not for the faint hearted.

Dinner was enjoyed at a lovely local Thai restaurant about 2.5km ride out of town, near the junction and opposite a petrol station. The Kra Samui restaurant was discovered by a blogger and it proved to be the best meal we had ever. The deep fried fish served with Thai spices and sauces floored us not only by its size, but by its quality and very reasonable price of about US$8. Pics don't do justice to this incredible dish!



After dinner, we finished off with a traditional Thai massage, had our 3rd cup of  Chai Ron (amazing hot milk tea) by the dark alley beside our hotel and that got us all ready for a well deserved snooze.


What a day it has been. We can't believe we are finally here in Betong Thailand! As always, I am grateful to KC for accompanying me for yet another crazy Lovethefold Adventure.

Photo credits - largely KC :)

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